Culture

Magnus Opus: Crazy, wet and downright dangerous

A bit of a crazy day, wasn’t it? With all the rain those last 20km were just absolutely unbelievable. It was amazing how much water was on the road heading into the finish, and that made things incredibly dangerous; but even if it had been dry, that course was right on the limit of what might be considered safe. Wet roads just made it crazy, and that’s where I figure I should start my thoughts here today. It really wasn’t the finishing straight itself, it was the route we covered coming into town. The last 3km were fine. I mean the rain made that dicey, but the closing stretch was just

By Magnus Bäckstedt, Alessio-Bianchi, professional cycling team

A bit of a crazy day, wasn’t it?

With all the rain those last 20km were just absolutely unbelievable. It was amazing how much water was on the road heading into the finish, and that made things incredibly dangerous; but even if it had been dry, that course was right on the limit of what might be considered safe. Wet roads just made it crazy, and that’s where I figure I should start my thoughts here today.

It really wasn’t the finishing straight itself, it was the route we covered coming into town. The last 3km were fine. I mean the rain made that dicey, but the closing stretch was just fine. But from about 12 or 13km out until about 5km from the finish, it made this sudden transition from nice big roads, onto a climb over a narrow road and then down this narrow twisting descent, and then on to narrow, narrow roads for a long stretch. On a dry day, it would have been marginal. With a couple of centimeters of water on the road it was downright dangerous.

With a team like Fassa massed at the front and driving into town like crazy on these roads, the racing was not nice at all. A guy ends up racing on chance more than anything else. Up front the guys had some visibility – not much, but some – while anyone behind them was drenched in water. Over the last 20km, I could hardly see anything. I did my best to sit a little outside of the peloton, just to be able to see where I was going, but then there wasn’t much room out there on those roads.

For the sprinters, it’s fair enough. They all know the risks they’re taking, but it’s a big problem for the GC guys. Now, please forgive me if this sounds like I am complaining or wincing, but these organizers have to take the riders’ safety into consideration when they design a course, especially on a stage when they know there is going to be a massive charge into the finish, especially in the big tours when everyone is taking so many more risks.

Pretty much everyone in the peloton today was shaken after today, and really everyone thinks these finishes have been absolutely crazy. As far as I am concerned, we need to talk to the UCI about that, maybe get all of the teams to send a letter and try to get something done here. Formula 1 does it with a safety committee. They are the ones charged with making sure that courses are up to snuff and that drivers aren’t taking big and unnecessary risks.

We really need something like that in cycling, to have people who know about course design come in and take a look at the finishes to see if they are safe or not. We especially need to do that for the big tours, because they mean so much to every single rider in the peloton. In the tours everyone is motivated to take a few more chances out there and that becomes dangerous when the course layout increases the risk. I mean, no one wants to be the guy to tap his brakes first … and it’s then that you see the big crashes.

As a sport, we need to look at safety from all angles. Nowadays the helmet rule is even carrying over to time trials, where we have to wear crash-resistant helmets. That’s fine, but when the big hazards are the courses, no one is really looking at that aspect.

That was a big problem at the Tour de France in the mid- to late-‘90s, but the Tour has really cleaned up its act on that front. Usually there, it’s a straight shot to the line and if there is a sharp turn, then it’s often in the final kilometer. That means that if there is a crash, the guys caught behind it are given the same time as the field, so it’s okay to let the sprinters have a go at it. Here, the GC guys are often finishing in the top-20 for the stage and that’s a bad sign. It’s an indication right there, that there’s way too much traffic up at the front of the field.

Sure, these twisty, turning routes to the finish are great for the spectators – they get closer to the action and see a lot more happening – but for the riders it’s downright dangerous. Do we want a spectacle for the fans or safety for the riders? Sometimes the choice is just that.

On the racing side of it, Fassa Bortolo proved again that they have the best lead-out team in the peloton. Yesterday was the only time they messed it up and that was after a long day of having everyone up front. Today, they drove it in perfectly. They really are making Petacchi’s life so much easier.

He sits right in there with his teammates and no one messes with him up there. Then, in the final kilometers, they drive it harder, pull him in until about 300 to go and send him off. Yes, he is an amazing sprinter, but he also has a team making his life so much easier.

I wanted to see how I could do, but coming through the last couple of turns, I figured that I didn’t want to take risks on these roads and stayed back and finished in the field.

Anyway, with a mountain-top finish tomorrow, I don’t think I will be facing any choices about taking risks and going for the win. My best bet is to do what I can do to help get Andrea and Franco safely to the base of the last climb and then do my best to get in under the time cut.

All in a day’s work. Good night and talk to you tomorrow.